Audience, Words, and Art

Studies in Seventeenth-Century French Rhetoric

Hugh M. Davidson


Literary Criticism / European / French
189 pp. 6x9

$24.95 paper 978-0-8142-5317-5
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In the six studies which make up this volume, Mr. Davidson has sought to do four things: (1) to recover the crucial steps in the attempt to reconstitute rhetoric as a discipline for France and the French language in the seventeenth century; (2) to analyze the opposition to that attempt, as it appears in the Logique of Port-Royal; (3) to show how Pascal, starting from principles like those of the Port-Royalists, invented an art of persuasion which is reflected in the Lettres proviciales, especially, but also in the Pensées; and (4) to compare and contrast the ways in which one theme or factor in rhetorical theory—the audience—becomes specified in the minds of Corneille, Racine, and Molière as they write and defend their dramatic works.

In the adventures of rhetoric in seventeenth-century France, the historian of ideas and methods uncovers the results of a persistent effort to renew and rebuild one of the great intellectual techniques invented by the ancients, and to do so in face of attacks from expert controversialists for whom the future belonged to logic. The historian of literature finds in the documents principles of interest to him, moreover, an important factor in some of the great creative minds of the century. In several ways and degrees this rhetorical discipline was actualized in the energies of Pascal, Corneille, Racine, and Molière. That it played a part in their ways of stating and solving their problems is no doubt one of the surest signs of its lasting power and greatness.

Hugh M. Davidson is professor of romance languages at the Ohio State University.